August 2018

A Shot in the Arm

Lineus Medical
Lineus Medical was started in 2015 and has since designed a product to prevent IV lines from being pulled out.

The founder, Spencer Jones, was working as a registered nurse when he kept seeing the same problem: Patients were pulling out their IV catheters accidentally and on purpose.

Jones came up with the idea of creating a controlled separation in an IV line, so that harmful forces would not pull out an IV catheter. He later learned another nurse had patented the same idea. So he and a business partner purchased that patent and founded Lineus Medical.

The product Lineus Medical produces is called Safebreak® Vascular, and it detaches an IV line safely — without pulling out the catheter in the patient’s arm — if more than 3.74 pounds of force are applied across the line. The design also prevents the flow of liquids with valves once the line has been detached.

After purchasing the patent, Jones continued to work full-time as a nurse until he was accepted into the ZeroTo510 Memphis business accelerator program.

“That allowed me the freedom and financial stability to switch from nursing to full-time running the medical device company,” he says.

The response from hospitals and clinicians who see the technology has been “resoundingly positive,” according to Jones.

“We’re expecting FDA clearance before year end, and we’re more than ready to launch this product and start helping patients across the U.S.,” he says.

Jones, who was born and raised in Arkansas, says it was important to him to keep the company in his home state.

“I want our state’s future economy to be a diverse one with growth across multiple industry verticals, and currently there isn’t a large medical device presence in the state. Medical device companies typically employ high-skill, high-earning workers and those are the kind of jobs our state needs,” Jones says.

He continues, “Fayetteville has a rich entrepreneurial ecosystem with no shortage of mentors and workshops to sharpen your skills. The culture here was important to me as well.”
Looking toward the future, Jones feels as though Lineus Medical is just getting started.

“We have big plans for the future,” he says.

He would eventually like to bring clean room assembly operations to Northwest Arkansas, with distribution and eventually injection molding.

“The talent and resources exist in this area to build a large profitable device company, and that’s exactly what we intend to do, says Jones.”

Boston Mountain Biotech
Boston Mountain Biotech is working to boost the efficiency of manufacturing drugs.

Its secret to boosting efficiency is the Lotus® technology, which was worked on by researchers at the University of Arkansas and University of Pittsburgh.

“As engineers, we’re driven to make processes more efficient,” says Ellen Brune, Ph.D., CEO of Boston Mountain Biotech. “For pharmaceutical manufacturing, the most inefficient process (and thus the most expensive) is the process used to get the drugs clean enough to meet FDA purity standards. This cost can make the manufacturing of new drugs or biosimilars sometimes cost-prohibitive.”

Brune calls Lotus® a cell line optimization platform that allows drug manufacturers to improve the efficiency of their downstream (or cleanup process) by as much as 50 percent. This is accomplished by reducing waste produced in the upstream drug expression system.

Lotus® works with protein-based drugs, and for the average person using them, these are usually IV or injectable drugs, like insulin.

Although this technology likely won’t help reduce costs for consumers by raising efficiency, Brune says it will improve the availability of drugs. The reason costs aren’t likely to come down by raising manufacturing efficiency is because the biggest expense comes from research and drug development, according to Brune.

Brune says the University of Arkansas was a key resource for her when building Boston Mountain Biotech.

“The University of Arkansas, specifically my co-inventors and the science entrepreneurship community, were fantastic resources as I was growing my business and conducting research and development. I don’t think I could have been as successful without their support,” she says.

The next goal for Boston Mountain Biotech is to have Lotus® acquired by a pharmaceutical manufacturer, according to Brune.

HD Nursing
In Central Arkansas, one startup is working to improve falls and injury management across the health care spectrum.

Amy Hester, Ph.D., R.N., B.C., co-founder of HD Nursing, says she (and cofounder Dees Davis) started working in 2008 to find a better way to care for patients with chronic needs in the Neurology Department of UAMS.

“We realized there was a real gap in having a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to preventing falls and injury,” Hester says.

It didn’t take long for Hester and Davis to realize there were other patients in need of better falls and injury management.

Hester described HD Nursing’s solution in three words: predict, prevent and sustain.

HD Nursing provides clinicians with a predictive tool called the Hester Davis Scale to determine which patients are at risk for fall injuries, according to Hester. When a patient is found to be at risk, HD Nursing provides them with an individualized comprehensive care plan that, based on their score, helps prevent falls and injury.

“We then help the hospital sustain those improvements over time through our ongoing support,” Hester says.

HD Nursing has saved clients more than $1 million in case costs, according to Hester. She says falls are expensive even if they don’t result in injury. Extended hospital stays where imaging is required add up quickly. If a fall results in injury, costs can range from $14,000 to over $40,000, Hester says.

On top of that, people often use expensive cameras or patient observers to monitor patients. Hester says when using the HD Falls program, there is no need for either, saving on labor costs.

“At UAMS, the annual cost that we were able to eliminate was $330,000. Between reducing the cost of falls and labor for observers, it doesn’t take us long to provide a $1 million return on investment for our clients,” she says.

Although HD Nursing has clients and staff around the country, the core operations of the business (which functions independently of UAMS) remain in Arkansas.

“We are incentivized to remain Arkansas-based through AEDC [Arkansas Economic Development Commission] and an investment tax credit that we leveraged in our seed funding round. Arkansas is also a good central location to some of our largest clients in St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Tulsa and Jackson, Mississippi. I am an Arkansan and am honored to pay it forward to my fellow Arkansans,” Hester says.

Now that HD Nursing has excelled at fall and injury reduction in the hospital space, Hester says the company has shifted a majority of its research and development to clinical content for the long-term care, rehab, skilled nursing and home environments.

The origin of this final Arkansas medical startup comes from, of all places, ballet.

Charles Caldwell, M.D., founder of Housecall Telemedicine by iHeartDoc, says he got the idea for the product from looking at his daughters’ feet after their intense ballet schedule. Of course, they were 400 miles away.

While Caldwell looked at products like Skype and Facetime for consulting doctors to teleconference with their patients, he learned they weren’t secure enough under current U.S. law.

So he persisted in developing a platform for doctors to securely video chat with their patients for certain conditions that don’t require an office visit. The result was Housecall Telemedicine, according to CEO Josh Whitehurst.
Whitehurst says the biggest challenge in developing this product was the unexpected inefficiencies of data sharing and connectivity issues.

“It’s fairly simple to create a secure audio/video service. It’s much more involved to create a system that provides value by connecting all aspects of an individual’s health,” he says.

Whitehurst calls the number of medical professionals who are starting to see the value in this technology “encouraging,” but he says there will always be skepticism. Still, Whitehurst says he believes healthy skepticism is the strongest indicator of positive change.

While the technology doesn’t replace an in-person visit, Housecall Telemedicine is an ideal platform for non-emergent conditions like bumps, bruises, colds, rashes and some mental health and counseling services, according to Whitehurst.

Although one might think the main advantage of this technology would be to those in rural communities like Jasper, Whitehurst says it has been pretty evenly spread between tiny towns and metro areas like Little Rock and Fayetteville.

“Regardless of location, people are finding true value with the ability to handle non-emergent cases remotely and easily share data with their practitioners,” he says.

Whitehurst says iHeartDoc plans to keep its headquarters in Arkansas, regardless of how the company grows.

“First and foremost, we are Arkansas natives and love where we are. Our team has a passion to help innovate the state’s health-care system,” he says.

In 2017, Arkansas passed legislation with additional regulations on telemedicine, but Whitehurst says its regulatory climate is “incredibly friendly” with the company’s model.

“The main caveat in Arkansas legislation is simple and applies directly to insurance reimbursement. A practitioner must have an in-person visit with their patient before receiving reimbursement for telemedicine visits,” he says.
But unlike other telemedicine operations, iHeartDoc doesn’t employ the doctors who use its system. It merely offers a set of tools for doctors to use.

Whitehurst says the doctors using Housecall Telemedicine are seeing patients they already have an established relationship with. This means any health-care professional can sign up and start using the product with devices they already own.
Looking to the future, Whitehurst says iHeartDoc has big plans in the works and will continue to support a proactive treatment model.

He says, “Everyone deserves to be healthy, and the best approach toward true wellness is to be precisely informed.”

As technology continues to develop, Arkansas can likely expect to see many other exciting startups in all fields, including medicine.

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